Tip from Holly: Read out Loud!

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I’m Holly, a rising sophomore at Harvard College likely concentrating in Social Studies with a secondary in Molecular and Cellular Biology. A lifetime resident of snowy New England and having attended high school in Boston, I’ve always had a particular passion for English writing and biology, the standardized test kind and otherwise.

This is the first in a series of SAT, ACT, and academic tips and tricks HSA tutors have volunteered to provide to you. Since I’ve always loved writing and spent my weekends before Harvard editing for my school’s student newspaper, I’m going to share my best strategy for preparing for the essay portion of the SAT: read out loud.

It sounds too simple to be effective, but I think reading your practice essay responses out loud is the single best way catch your grammatical, structural, and clarity issues. Well in advance of your next SAT, sit down and write out an answer to a practice essay question, preferably in an environment that emulates what you’ll find on testing day—strict timing and few distractions. When you’ve finished, take a break and do something else to get your mind off of what you’ve just written, then come back and read it out carefully, paying close attention to any sections that feel awkward or words that seem out of place. To put it simply, anywhere you trip up on your own writing is somewhere you have a problem to fix—whether that problem be grammatical, structural, or in making connections between points you’re trying to convey.

Once you’ve identified the issues in your writing using this technique, you’ll be able to keep your common errors in mind as you work on additional practice essays and eventually your actual SAT essay. While it’s probably not realistic to read your entire essay under your breath during the test, this is also a great strategy for getting back on track during the test if you lose your way in a paragraph; beyond the SAT, reading aloud is also a proven way to root out errors and confusing constructions in just about anything written—from your college essay to a paper for your AP English class.

Always read your SAT practice essays—and anything else your write—out loud.

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